Rookie running backs usually dominate rookie drafts in dynasty leagues. Everyone wants to get the next stud workhorse back since there are so few in between nowadays. This article looks at historic data from 2015 and forwards at these young rookie backs. The data will show when they were drafted and how often they were RB1 status fantasy options. You’ll better understand why many owners want to draft running backs early and often.
The Rookie Years
Since 2015, there have been 148 RBs drafted in the NFL Draft. Only 19 rookie RBs have been able to post a top 24 fantasy finish in their rookie season. We’ve had twelve finish as an RB1 during their first year. We could break that down more as the 2017 draft had four RB1 season performances. That would leave just eight in the other six draft classes. These RBs either had the complete workhorse in the offense, or the new style pass-catching running backs like Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey dominated their rookie seasons.
You see a significant increase in production from RBs in their second season. The other half are those who had potential but didn’t perform well during their rookie year. Twelve did not finish as a top 24 back who ended up as a top 24 running back in year two. It bolds well for some young guys like Elijah Mitchell, Michael Carter, and Travis Etienne to make a name for themselves in 2022. Out of 129 RBs who played two seasons, about 20% of them were able to produce RB2 numbers or better. While the 20% doesn’t seem like a lot, the NFL is a forever revolving door of opportunity where many seasons don’t last three years.
By the third season, you know who are the elite backs. A whopping 33 RBs finished as an RB2 or better. Compared to their second season, the number of RB1 dropped by six, and the number of top 24 dropped by three.
What caused the drop in numbers? You may weed out some of the outliner seasons like Jay Ajayi, Tarik Cohen, and Alex Collins. Teams will overuse young RBs early, which causes them to break down early like David Johnson and Saquan Barkley and not produce well. There could be a concern that heavy hitters like Jonathan Taylor and Antonio Gibson could start to break out because of their workloads. Gosh, I hope not. You also see RBs finally break out as a top 24 back like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Damien Harris, and Devin Singletary; it took more time to get the opportunity. This screams for a guy like Cam Akers, who had dealt with injuries and committees over his first two seasons so he could find his own in year three.
By the Draft Round
It’s an essential part of the article to understand which round RBs go and how successful in fantasy football they are. If you see any go in round four or six of the NFL draft, know since 2015, there hasn’t been a single one to produce RB1 numbers. Rounds five and seven have seen five RB1 performances with guys like Aaron Jones and Chris Carson emerging from a tough road.
Round three has given up household names like Kamara, Gibson, Hunt, and David Johnson. Eleven times we’ve seen an RB1 season from that quartet. Round two is the area in many drafts nowadays where the top RBs are going in drafts due to the unnecessary value they don’t hold for NFL teams. We see that Cook, Mixon, Chubb, and Taylor are in the round two range. Round 3 has beat out round 2 – 11 to 6 in RB1 seasons. Of course, at the top are the round one RBs, who have produced 16 RB1 seasons.
The First Round RBs
RBs taken in round one are fewer and fewer as the years go on. There have only been 12 taken in round one. Sixteen have been drafted in round two and 19 from round three. The likelihood a rookie first-rounder RB will produce is a no-brainer. Eight of those twelve RBs had at least produced a top 24 finish during the first season. Three of the four who didn’t produce in the top 24 were hurt in Travis Etienne, Sony Michel, and Rashaad Penny. You’re getting about a 50% hit on productivity from your first-round drafted RB. There is about a 66 % hit rate that your back can at least produce RB2 numbers. Only Penny and Michel have failed to do anything in their first three seasons. We knew they were not the best picks at the drafted time.
Some other fun stats about these RBs are how many produced RB1 numbers. There have been nine who posted back-to-back RB1 seasons. There have only been three who three-peated as RB1 in their first three seasons – Ezekiel Elliott, McCaffrey, and Kamara. As we look to 2022, 13 RBs have at least posted two RB seasons during their first three seasons. Of those 13, eight are still considered top 20 heading into 2022. I hope this breakdown as the NFL draft approaches helps you with your rookie picks next month!
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